Saturday, April 30, 2005

Forcing kids to have kids

Last year we saw an attempt by National's conservative rump to undermine the right of teenagers to seek an abortion on the grounds that they were mature enough to have children, but not mature enough to decide not to. Today, Florida provides a graphic example of where that thinking leads: a state court has granted an injunction preventing a thirteen year old from having an abortion. If the injunction survives legal challenge, she will be forced by the state to give birth; if she tries to take matters into her own hands (either by fleeing to a civilised state, or using DIY methods) she will most likely be jailed.

This is (to put it bluntly) using a human being like a brood-mare. I can think of few viler invasions of people's fundamental sovereignty over their own bodies than that.

New Fisk

Lebanon’s hollow victory

Just a risk of business

Dodgy finance companies are complaining that an increasing number of young people are racking up debt and then declaring bankruptcy. But isn't this just a risk of business? The chief justification for the high interest rates they charge is the risk of not being paid back; if they misjudge that risk, then they deserve to go bankrupt. It's as simple as that.

More on transparency

The Herald this morning has a list of MP's assets and financial interests culled from public records. Unfortunately it's incomplete, containing only data pulled from the Companies Office and Quotable Value (and the latter in areas where they are "likely" to own property), but it's better than nothing. I'm now waiting for MPs to start kicking and screaming about how their privacy has been invaded...

Meanwhile, this morning's Agenda had an interview (link to follow) with Rod Donald on the matter. He's very keen to push something through so that a disclosure regime is in place at the beginning of the next Parliamentary term. He repeatedly stressed that this is about transparency, and allowing the public to judge what is and isn't a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, many of our MPs seem hostile to that idea (just look at their behaviour over the filming of Parliament) - which is precisely why they must be brought into line.

The End Of The World As We Know It

A happy couple celebrating their civil union (stolen from the Herald)

If this is what the end of the world looks like, it doesn't seem that bad to me.

Friday, April 29, 2005

"And that's it, really"

Just saw the civil union ceremonies on Campbell Live. A gay and a straight couple getting hitched on TV, and the world still hasn't ended. I'm beginning to think that those doom-sayers from Destiny NZ were full of shit...

I was however unimpressed with their celebrant's claims of the differences between marriage and civil union ceremonies. Contrary to his claims, rings, vows, and a verbal declaration from the celebrant are not legally part of the process. All that is required is for the parties to say "I AB, take you CD, to be my legal [wife or husband]" or words to that effect (see s 31 (3) of the Marriage Act 1955). The Civil Union Act effectively demands the same thing by requiring that each party, in the presence of a celebrant and two witnesses, names both parties and "acknowledges that they are freely joining in a civil union with each other". "I AB, take you CD, to be my civil union partner" fits that bill perfectly.

But legal niceties aside, the celebrant does have a point. The arrival of civil unions allows us to dispense with the old traditions governing marriage (like rings, and long vows, and "I do" and whatever) and create new ones of our own devising, keeping the best of the old (like pretty clothes and a party) while ditching the crap. We were already seeing this with younger people anyway, and civil unions will probably accelerate the process.

Encouraging participation

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee has established its own website to encourage public participation in the process of investigating our constitutional structure and recommending a pathway for change. It can be found at

So far there's a couple of discussion documents up, as well as a list of suggested reading. While this stuff is useful, it's not essential; constitutional change is about what we want, and you don't need to digest a massive pile of reading in order to have an opinion on that.

The committee also looks like it will recommend that any major change be preceeded by a referendum, which is a good move. Any significant change, such as the move to a republic or written constitution, must be ultimately founded on popular consent. Without that, we're not deciding our own constitution; other people are deciding it for us.

Ignoring the elephant in the room

So, the government has hinted that the budget will contain measures to ease student debt - but by how much, and for whom? So far their response to the problem has been to tinker around the edges. They've twiddled repayment mechanisms to slightly reduce repayment time, but they've steadfastly ignored the elephant in the room: the ever-growing debt-burden on graduates.

There are a number of policies the government could pursue to both stop the debt mountain from getting any bigger and to ease the debts of existing graduates. It could fund universities at a higher rate, allowing them to charge lower fees. It could re-universalise the student allowance, so that people didn't have to borrow in order to eat. It could reduce interest rates to the rate of inflation, and stop trying to screw a profit out of borrowers. And it could start writing off debt for contributing to the New Zealand economy, rather than the Australian or British one. These are all expensive policies, but unless some or all of them are implemented, we will continue to see declining home ownership, low savings rates, and shortages in vital professions as people take their skills overseas.

Forced to publish in full

The leaking of Lord Goldsmith's summary of his advice on the legality of invading Iraq has forced the government to publish the full advice. It explicitly rules out self-defence and humanitarianism as justifications for war, and states flat-out that if military action is to be justified on the basis of prior UN resolutions, it must be aimed solely at disarmament;

Regime change cannot be the objective of military action.

It then goes on to argue that a second resolution would be needed, without which he could not guarantee that British politicians and soldiers would not be prosecuted for war crimes. Families of British soldiers killed in Iraq are already preparing their case against Blair. Hopefully The Hague won't be too far behind.

Blair has called this a "damp squib", but its not so much about what the advice says (frankly it tells us nothing that we didn't know already), but the way in which Blair systematically lied about it to the armed forces, to his own cabinet, to Parliament, and to the British public. This was done explicitly in order to subvert the checks and balances within the system (can anyone imagine the UK Cabinet voting to go to war on advice this week? Can anyone imagine the UK Parliament doing so?) and to minimise the political damage to himself. And that is what the British public must punish him for.

Update: Fixed title. I plead lack of caffeine.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

An interesting question

ObservatioNZ asks an interesting question: what would have happened if New Zealand had declined to participate in WW1? Unfortunately his answer is a little short-term, focussing mostly on WW1; I think we need to look a little beyond that.

The most obvious consequence of staying out of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's family squabble would have been staying out of WWII as well, or at least the European part of it. A post-Imperial New Zealand would likely have fought in the Pacific (and probably side by side with Australia), but would not have sent troops to Europe. I'm not sure whether this would have been decisive or not - I don't know enough about the early part of the African Campaign to decide whether New Zealand's absence would have led to the loss of Egypt and the capture of the Suez Canal. It would also have meant a definitive break with Britian, economically and culturally - meaning no easy access to the British or EEC market (so we would have had to make our own way in the world much sooner), no easy access to Britian for New Zealanders (so no great kiwi OE), and therefore reduced access to British and European culture. The latter would have been quite significant, as people returning from their OE after experiencing Europe drove much of the change in (to pick a perennial favourite topic) kiwi cusine. No kiwi troops at Gallipoli may have meant that today we'd still be eating corned beef...

Things aren't what they used to be...

With law and order a top issue in the British election, The Law West of Ealing Broadway's anonymous magistrate takes the time to remind us of why crime figures from the 60's aren't neccessarily comparable to those from today. There's been a massive amount of social change, which has affected both the nature of, opportunities for, and reporting of offending. And while the post talks about Britain, much of it is applicable here. In particular, massive indifference to recreational drug use (really, does anyone under 40 give a rat's arse what people stick in their own bodies nowdays?), a massive decline in tolerance for domestic violence (or violence of any sort), increase in car ownership and stealable property generally (cellphones, anyone?), and the increased popularity of home and contents insurance. Something to remember next time any politician starts harping on about crime and how things were so much better in the past...

New kiwi blog

Tumeke, by Tim Selwyn.

No wonder he wanted to hide it

Lord Goldsmith's concluding summary of his legal advice on the legality of the Iraq war has been leaked - and as expected, it doesn't look good for Tony Blair. The document shows that Lord Goldsmith thought that while a "reasonable case" could be made that the UN had already authorised force, he did not believe it would stand up in court, and that

the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force. [...] The key point is that it should establish that the Council has concluded that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity offered by resolution 1441, as in the draft which has already been tabled.

He also noted that in the absence of such a resolution, any argument that previous resolutions had been revivied would hinge on the opinions of the weapons inspectors. Interestingly, the same day the opinion was given to Blair, Hans Blix reported that Iraq was making "substantial" progress in destroying its long-range missiles, and that no WMD had been found. Tony Blair ignored those findings, instead stating that it was his "unequivocal view" that Iraq was in breach of prior resolutions. As a result, a sexed-up version of the opinion, with all caveats, qualifications, and doubt removed, was presented to Parliament and used as the basis for war.

But it wasn't just Parliament. Blair mushroomed his cabinet, and responded to his armed forces with lies. In the process, he exposed each and every one of them to legal risk. But there is no doubt on whose shoulders the responsibility really lies: Tony Blair's. British voters should remember that when they go to the polls next week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Subverting transparency

The government's plans to shelve the Members of Parliament (Pecuniary Interests) Bill and replace it with a system under the Standing Orders smacks of "mates justice" and an effort to evade public scrutiny. Rather than being overseen publicly by the courts, the disclosure regime will be dealt with by Parliament's privileges committee - politicians sitting in judgement on themselves, in secret, and with transparency and justice subverted by shoddy back-room dealing. We are rightly suspicious of such processes when applied to the police, or by professional bodies such as the Law Society or Medical Council; why then should we allow politicians to scratch each other's backs to the public detriment in this way?

The potential for MPs to have conflicts of interest raises significant questions of public trust. The solution to such problems is transparency, allowing the public both to judge whether a conflict is significant, and to hold politicians accountable for dubious behaviour. But that is not enough. Investigations into the truthfulness or otherwise of those disclosures must be open, public, and immune to political pressure. This suggests that the courts, rather than Parliament, are the best venue for such matters. While MPs will cry "Parliamentary Sovereignty", this is not a matter of Parliament's internal procedures. It is not about whether MPs trust one another, but whether we trust them. Put this way, it should be clear why having more MPs in the process is no solution.

Still No WMD

Some months ago, the Iraq Survey Group, the US group set up to find Saddam's missing WMD, reported that there weren't any. NeoCons desperate to justify the war (and start the next one) claimed that that was because they'd all been moved to Syria before the invasion started. Today, the ISG sank that theory as well, reporting that there was no evidence to support the theory. It also criticised military intelligence for botching interrogations of WMD scientists, and recommended that they be released. Some have been detained without charge or trial for almost two years.

So, what were those 21,000 (and counting) people killed for again?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Civil union day

Today, the civil unions bill comes into force, and people can apply for a licence. Good luck to everybody who does.

Civic duty

I've been summonsed for jury service this week, so posting may be sporadic. Of course, I might not be selected - or I might have to sit on a four-week trial for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. Guess I'll find out later today.

Lest we forget

So, Don Brash has used an Anzac Day service to criticise the government for not spending enough on defence. Which is just a little rich, coming from him. Lest we forget, hospitals and schools weren't the only things underfunded during the 90's. A National government pursuing the very policies Brash wants to inflict on us again systematically ran down the defence force so they could cut taxes for the rich. For them to now turn around and claim that defence should be getting more money seems just a little hypocritical, neh?

Silencing the critics

Another week, another report of serious human rights violations by US forces. This time, it's Afghanistan, where the UN's independent expert, Cherif Bassiouni, has accused the US of

forced entry into homes, arrest and detention of nationals and foreigners without legal authority or judicial review, sometimes for extended periods of time, forced nudity, hooding and sensory deprivation, sleep and food deprivation, forced squatting and standing for long periods of time in stress positions, sexual abuse, beatings, torture, and use of force resulting in death

(Emphasis added)

He also noted that

  • Prisoners are held in substandard conditions which violate minimum standards agreed to by the US;
  • UN human rights officials and the Red Cross are denied access to prisons and prisoners outside the two main US facilities at Bagram and Khandahar;
  • Prisoners are transferred out of the country, either to Guantanamo, or to third countries for the purpose of torture;
  • Eight prisoners have died in suspicious circumstances in US custody in Afghanistan. Some of these deaths have been ruled to be homicides.
  • One (classified) investigation recommended that 28 personnel be prosecuted in connection with some of the above deaths. Despite this, "prosecutions have been limited".

The overall picture is of a force which engages in gross human rights abuses and operates "above and beyond the reach of the law".

The US's response to this criticism has been overwhelming and immediate. Bassiouni has been removed from his position following US pressure, and his replacement will no longer investigate the activities of US forces. Human rights standards are something to be applied to other countries, not to the almighty US.

(Bassiouni's full report can be found here)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Playing the Iraq card

With 10 days to go until the British election, the LibDems have finally played the Iraq card, with LibDem leader Charles Kennedy saying that every Labour and Conservative candidate should be held to account over their vote on the Iraq war, and that Tony Blair should get "justice by the ballot box". We can but hope. With the leaking of the Attorney-General's advice, it has become clear that Blair led Britian into an illegal war and exposed his troops to both physical and legal risks on false pretences. That is something he deserves to be punished for - by de-election if not being dragged in chains to The Hague.

New Fisk

How Arabic text of WMD dossier was massaged by Downing St
I may not be sure about God or the Devil, but I still believe in the United Nations

Tracing humanity's whakapapa

This month, National Geographic launched the genographic project, aimed at tracing human migration patterns using DNA. If successful, it would be a fantastic addition to our knowledge of human history. Unfortunately, it seems some people would rather not understand their own origins:

Dr Paul Reynolds of Auckland University's Maori research centre, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, urged Maori to boycott the project because it implied that people's origins could be traced in their genes.

"This type of research is colonisation as usual," he said.

"Indigenous people will be saying we already have our stories about our origins, so we don't need a scientific rationale to justify our origins.

But while we have stories, it's nice to have confirmation. The only reason for opposing investigating those stories (whether through archeology or genetics) is because you know that those stories are untrue. But then if you know they are untrue, why believe them?

As for Dr Reynolds' first comment, the fact is that people's origins can be traced through their genes. Paternity tests are an obvious example. But it goes deeper than that. There are chunks of DNA which are stable between generations (being shared by both parents), which are altered only occasionally by mutatations. These mutations can be used both as genetic markers and as a kind of clock. With a lot of samples, we can find out how populations of the human species are related to one another, and trace the entire human family tree. And that's ultimately what this project is about: tracing humanity's whakapapa. Why would anyone be opposed to that?

Sedition by Example XIV: The Christchurch Second Division League

(An ongoing history of those prosecuted for ThoughtCrime under our archaic law against sedition)

Motion put to a public meeting at the Christchurch Opera House, April 28th, 1917:

"That this meeting of Christchurch citizens is of the opinion that no Second Division man should leave for camp unless the demands of the Second Division League are conceded by the government, and that a general election be held immediately"

(The Second Division referred to above is married men. The government had initially applied conscription only to the First Division of single men; furthermore, it had set military pay rates at an artificially low level, so as to discourage married men from volunteering for service. The Second Division League - a nationwide organisation of those about to be called up - wanted pay rates and allowances increased so that soldiers' families did not starve to death in their absence).

The motion was carried, with only four dissenting from the 1600 in attendance. Several days later, the proposers of the motion, a pair of watersiders named Ernest Langley and John Flood, as well as its seconder, Christchurch City Councillor and former Social Democratic party president Hiram Hunter, were prosecuted for sedition. Langley and Flood were each sentenced to six months imprisonment, and Hunter to three months. They were released after 19 days, following an enormous public outcry. The Mayor of Christchurch, who had chaired the meeting and ultimately put the motion to the vote, was not charged.

(Sources: King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great war, by Paul Baker, Auckland university Press, 1988; New Zealand Herald, 9th May, 1917).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Shooting themselves in the foot

The National Front is planning to attend ANZAC day ceremonies tomorrow - and it has attracted the expected response from the RSA:

"The RSA would be obviously appalled and it would disgust most New Zealanders. New Zealand does not need groups like these," [RSA CEO Pat] Herbert said.

The RSA could not stop National Front members attending services but "they certainly will not be welcomed if they come flying their colours".

Herbert said the National Front represented everything Anzac soldiers had fought against.

Talk about shooting themselves in the foot...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Labour Succession

Chris Trotter's column in The Independent this week considers what might have been if Helen Clark's Piper Aztec had crashed who would succeed her? The four main candidates seem to be Cullen, Maharey, Goff, and Wilson, with Cullen likely emerging as the compromise candidate, and Labour policy continuing much as it is. But the question isn't just limited to disaster scenarios - nobody lasts forever, and Clark will move on eventually. However, it is an open question whether it will be a retirement while still in office, or following the eventual election defeat.

In each of these scenarios, the result is likely to be rather different. If Clark tries to arrange an orderly succession in office (as both John Howard and Tony Blair are rumoured to be planning in the next few years), the emphasis will be on continuity and stability, meaning that her successor would probably be someone like Cullen. But if she resigns or is rolled after losing at the polls, all bets are off. There will be a push for change, for a move away from electorally unsuccessful policies (even though a defeat may simply be due to electorally unsuccessful people, "the same tired old faces" if the government fails to renew itself) - which may initially give Goff an opportunity. But if National is still dominated by Revolutionaries and begins implementing a 90's-style radical free-market programme, there would be an obvious push to provide more left-wing policies - and more left-wing leadership - in response.

[Note that due to The Independent's lack of online archives, the above link is likely to point somewhere else within a week]

Nazis in Palmerston North

The National Front were conducting a picket in town today - in front of an asian restaurant. Which pretty much sums up their particular brand of petty bigotry...

Third response

Another response to the candidate survey, from Michael Morris, who is the yet-to-be-officially-selected Green candidate for Rimutaka. He is ranked at "30+" on the Greens' list:

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

Sue Kedgley's Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, banning battery hen cages and sow crates.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Sue Kedgley
Claire Bleakley
Amanda Reid

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

Marc Alexander (UF)

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

Support. I did oppose it, but I can see that lowering it to 18 has meant a lot more drunkenness among teenagers.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

Support, with a doctors' prescription and adequate controls to ensure that the patient does not on-sell it.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

Support decriminalising, oppose legalising. Would support making it an infringement like parking.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

I believe that the ideal for children is for them to have a male and female sex parent. I would support same-sex couples adopting, and adoption by a man or woman without a partner, but they would need to work harder to prove they are suitable.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

Oppose. Marriage is a spiritual ceremony in most (if not all) cultures, and is supposed to be between a man and a woman. I would support same sex civil unions but not marriages.

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

I would support in principle, but it would require VERY RIGOROUS conditions to avoid pressuring unwanted relatives or "burdens on society" to kill themselves. I would support only if the patient is in intolerable pain, the pain cannot be mitigated with pain-killers and the condition is unlikely to improve.

...state funding of integrated schools?

Support. For a healthy democracy to flourish a diversity of views is necessary. The state should therefore fund all sorts of education (including home schooling).

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

That's a tricky one. I support free speech, even of those whose views I find objectionable such as the NF, holocaust deniers or vivisectionists. However I acknowledge that it has limits. I will have to reserve judgement until I get a better understanding of exactly what "sedition" means.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

See above.

...further restrictions on hate speech?

Oppose. Free speech is essential in a democracy.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

Oppose. Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental human right. If anyone is considered such a risk to security that the state considers detaining them, then it should not be difficult to obtain sufficient evidence for a trial without undue delay

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?

Oppose. Two reasons; the death penalty brutalises a society that practices, and experience has shown inconsistency in sentencing. Eg. Pinochet got off his murder charge, Bush and Thatcher were never even indicted, but poor blacks are often executed.

...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

I know nothing about it.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?


...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

Support. It contains all the basic rights that people have fought and died for since Magna Carta.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

Know nothing about it.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

Would support if it is practicable. Minor parties have a right to be heard, in proportion to their franchise.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

The SIS should have been forced to either present its evidence or shut up. If they did not choose to present their evidence then the crown has no case and Zoui should have been released.

Some interesting answers there, and like Hamish McCracken's, show that views don't necessarily fall into nice neat boxes.

Sedition: Checking the facts

Last month, when framing an excellent article about sedition, Dog Biting Men reported a disturbing story:

according to one source, a man protesting at Prince Charles’ visit in Auckland last week was arrested on suspicion of, that’s right, sedition (just as the Monarchist League suggested). Which means that we have gone from no arrests for sedition in 80 years, to two arrests in 80-years-and-three-months. Thin end of the edge, anyone?

(It’s not clear whether the charges were dropped after the guy was released from holding cells, but in any case this demonstrates the following article's eery Cassandra-like prescience in warning of such vaguely defined laws being used to "harass political opponents or nuisances").

In an effort to confirm this, I lodged an Official Information Act request with the police, seeking information on whether anyone had been arrested for (or for suspicion of) sedition; their name, age, and occupation; and the circumstances for the arrest and the reason for the charge. Their response?

We advise that no one was arrested during the visit.

Presumably this should have an implicit "for sedition" tacked on the end of it, given the context of the question, otherwise it simply isn't true - but read that way, it's reassuring. That doesn't mean we should let the law stand though - even one case of it being applied to political speech is one too many.

New kiwi blog

Spotlight: NZ Labour Government

Friday, April 22, 2005

About Time

Michael Cullen, in his role as Attorney-General, has asked the Solicitor-General to consider whether there should be a new inquest into the accidental death on the Berrymans' property. About bloody time. But shouldn't they be doing more? This seems to be a case where the Army has concealed evidence in an effort to hide their own responsibility in the death; the result has been a gross miscarriage of justice in which the Berrymans have been left holding the can. This doesn't just require a new inquest; it demands a full and independent inquiry. The sooner the government establishes one, the better.

Collapse: Pitcairn, Henderson - and New Zealand?

I'm reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive at the moment. In the outline chapter he identifies five broad factors which can determine a society's fate: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbours, friendly trade partners, and how that society responds to its challenges. An early chapter examines Easter Island, which due to its lack of outside influences and isolation from the rest of Polynesian culture is perhaps the textbook example of a society killing itself off by degrading its environment (they cut down all their trees, which both decreased agricultural production due to erosion and reduced soil fertility, and meant they had no canoes, meaning much reduced access to seafood). But a sadder story is told in the next chapter, on Pitcairn and Henderson. These societies were not self-sufficient, but sustained by trade from the larger island of Mangareva; when that trade disappeared, Mangareva having made the same mistake as Easter and cut down all the trees which provided it with ocean-going canoes, so did the inhabitants of Pitcairn and Henderson. Not immediately - there is evidence that human habitation continued for up to a century after trade ceased - but by the time these islands were "discovered" by Europeans (1606 and 1790 respectively) they were empty. Diamond thinks that this should be a warning to us; globalisation has led to increasing economic interdependence, which allows us to offset the cost of degraded environments and sustain a well-fed, high-tech society through imports. But what happens if a vital part of the global economic system falls over?

Diamond uses the specific example of oil, and its fairly easy to see what the consequences of a sudden and sustained disruption of oil supplies (due to a nuclear exchange in the Middle East, for example) would be. The price would skyrocket, and in much of the world, transport would grind to a halt - resulting in a disruption of industrial production, economic recession, and possibly famine. If the disruption was long-lasting, societies would adapt, but more expensive transport would change patterns of industrial production and habitation; as in the nineteenth century, before we began using oil, factories would need to be closer to suppliers, and people closer to food sources.

What about total disruption? You'd need to look very hard to find a modern society as isolated and dependent on external trade as Henderson or Pitcairn was, but we can always do a though experiment. What would happen if New Zealand was completely cut off from the rest of the world? I think we'd actually do pretty well - we'd have to drop down to a 1900's or maybe 1940's level of existence, but we wouldn't die. And I think most western societies are probably in the same boat. The loss of imported fuel and raw materials would lead to vastly reduced standards of living, and the transition would be painful, but it wouldn't necessarily result in that society disappearing.

And OTOH, a painful transition is bad enough...

Following on from Diamond's point, if globalisation exposes us to risk, how can we manage it? Autarchy - self-sufficiency on a national level - may seem a tempting answer, but this throws out the benefits of interdependence along with the risks. I think a better solution is to use globalisation itself. Just as countries can ameliorate famine by working with others, we may be able to ameliorate other distributional disruptions (and on a global scale, famine is a distributional problem, not one of there not being enough food). Of course, self-interest and history will interfere with this, just as they interfere with other efforts to resolve global problems collectively - but I think its a lot better than each society trying to solve its own problems alone.

Surveying the Greens

I've spent the afternoon zapping off candidate surveys to the Green candidates announced today, and to others provided to me by the very helpful Green party staff. I've also dug through the lists on Wikipaedia (mentioned in the comments on FrogBlog) and added a few more.

The updated candidate list can be found here.

New kiwi blog

Hutt South - covering the general election in the Hutt South electorate.

Fun for the whole family

New Zealand Political Idol. Voting begins Saturday 23rd April.

The Green list

The Greens' party list is up on Frogblog. The big change that everyone is commenting on is that Nandor has dropped to number seven. But with so many high-performing MPs, there would have been some tough choices about rankings; Keith Locke and Met have certainly been very visible this term (oh human rights and foreign policy, and the foreshore and civil unions respectively), and so I can see how they would have been bumped up. I'm not sure about Sue Kedgley though...

While the change in list ranking means that Nandor may not get in if the Greens only get 5%, I don't think its a serious problem. The Greens have been consistently polling over or close to the threshold, and the election campaign will almost certainly push them over. They also tend to do very well out of the expat vote, which doesn't show up in polls. But if you're worried about Nandor, then there's an obvious solution: vote Green to help reelect him.

Update: Frogblog has more on the meaning of the list...

Police and porn

In the haste to make a scandal out of the police discovering pornography in their email system, something has been overlooked: namely that it's not illegal to look at porn. Sure, it's unwise (not to mention just damned rude) in the workplace, and is likely to get you into trouble with most employers, but unless said porn can be classified as objectionable (involving kids, animals, dead bodies, or extreme degradation), it's not against the law as such. Just a little fact, but one we should keep in mind before leaping to excoriate the police over this.

That said, some of the material apparently is objectionable, and it does raise troubling questions about the ability of the police to deal sensitively with the victims of sexual crime. But something else people seem to be forgetting is that porn or no porn, it would be the same people dealing with these crimes. The problem is with the culture; porn in the office computers is just the symptom. But I think the response to both the police rape inquiry and to this shows that the police leadership is committed to changing that culture. We just have to hope they succeed...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

We are experiencing technical difficulties...

Blogspot seems to be redirecting readers of this page to However, you can still see things by pointing your browser at

Of course, if you can read this, you probably don't need to see it...

And now everyone's doing it...

Closely on the heels of the Greens, both the LibertariaNZ and Alliance will be announcing their candidates this weekend. National and Labour already have a full slate, and United Future has selected over thirty. Which means that the only significant party to still be without candidates is New Zealand First.

But then again, given that candidates must necessarily distract attention from himself, I can understand why Winston might want to leave it as late as he can...

Myanmar's military regime uses chemical weapons

From BBC:

According to accounts from Karen fighters, who have been engaged in a long-running war with Burma's military government, the attack took place just inside the Burmese border, around 16km (10 miles) from the Thai town of Mae Hong Son.

They claim that clouds of yellow vapour began pouring from shells fired at their positions and soon after this many of them felt sick, vomited blood and were unable to walk.

Some later suffered from blisters and acute diarrhoea.

The president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Australian physician Dr Martin Panter, has since flown to the area and examined five of the men.

He concluded that their symptoms are synonymous with exposure to some form of chemical attack.

At the moment, the government is pursuing a free trade deal with Myanmar as part of a package deal with ASEAN. I think it's time they stopped.

Another retrospective law

What is it with this government and retrospective punishment?

First, we had the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill - which would effectively add to the sentence of every convicted criminal by denying them equal access to the law. And now the government is wanting to ban those convicted of serious crimes from driving taxis. But it's not their goal that's the problem so much as the way they are going about it.

There's an obvious public safety argument that at least serial violent offenders are not the sorts of people we want driving public transport. There's potential for abuse, and it probably is better that we deny the opportunity, just as we forbid child sex offenders from working in schools. The original version of the Land Transport Amendment Bill recognised this by providing for a blanket ban on serious, violent offenders convicted after the bill became law from holding or applying for a passenger endorsement (meaning they couldn't drive taxis or buses). But the Transport and Industrial Relations committee modifed the clause to make it retrospective. While this sounds good in theory, it clashes with both New Zealand and international law. Sections 26(2) 25(g) of the New Zealand bill of Rights Act 1990 bar increasing the punishment of those already convicted and sentenced, or applying a punishment harsher than that provided for when the offence was committed. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has similar provisions, in Articles 14(7) and 15. And this ban exists for a very good reason: a state where the government can arbitrarily increase the sentence of those already convicted or further punish those who have completed their sentence invites abuse for political purposes. If we are concerned about justice, then we cannot allow retrospective punishment.

What really stinks is that, like the prisoner compensation policy, this is so obviously a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived crisis. As the Herald notes,

Several taxi drivers have faced charges for sex attacks on passengers in recent years. Three Wellington drivers arrested within a month of each other in the middle of last year are before the courts.

But this law wouldn't have prevented any of those crimes. It would, however, add to the punishment of those convicted, allowing the government to claim it had "done something". But legislating for specific cases tends to make for bad law, and I think this example rather proves the point.

So, how could the government achieve its public safety aims? It would be perfectly acceptable for this section of the bill to be passed in its original form. But OTOH, I'm not sure that a blanket ban is entirely suitable either. Most murderers in New Zealand don't reoffend, and so pose no risk at all to the public. More generally, a blanket ban punishes both rehabilitated and unrehabilitated criminals alike - and in doing so provides an incentive against rehabilitation (and we have enough of them already). A better policy may be to require anyone wanting a passenger endorsement to meet a "good character" requirement, much as we do for a firearms license. But OTOH, I'm not sure that being a taxi driver is such a position of public trust as to make that necessary.

Green candidates

The Greens will reportedly be announcing their candidates on friday. I'll start surveying them when the list goes up...

Belich vs Hill

It's refreshing to see Kim Hill back on TV, and also refreshing to see her open in a less combatitive style than usual. Rather than a verbal slugfest with the politician d'jour, we were treated to a rather gentle discussion with historian James Belich. It was reminiscent of her excellent interview with Michael King just before his death, in that rather than being about Hill, it was actually about the views of her subject.

As for the views themselves, there was some discussion of why we would choose to celebrate Anzac Day when the Gallipoli campaign was such a bloody disaster, and about appropriate national days (I've been clear in my preference for Waitangi Day, but I like the symbology of declaring our republic in the centenary of our becoming a Dominion. Unfortunately, I think it'll take a little longer than that). But the most interesting part was on the kiwi sense of egalitarianism. (Pakeha) New Zealand was settled by people who wanted to escape the stultifying class structure of Britian, who wanted to leave deference and heirarchy behind - and they succeeded. We used the power of the state to strangle our would-be aristocracy at birth, allowing us to create a society where no-one was considered better (in the sense of having greater moral worth) than any other. This is one of our great achievements, and something we ought to celebrate. But Belich also spent some time bemoaning the "kiwi curse" - a "mutant egalitarianism" which conflates moral worth with talent, in that it insists that no-one is more talented or skilled than anyone else - except on the sports field. This is fairly clearly a defence mechanism against those who seek to claim greater moral worth on the basis of greater talent - but it's a defence mechanism which buys into the very belief it is supposed to protect against. Egalitarianism is far better served by denying any linkage at all, and insisting on complete moral and political equality for all, regardless of talent or the lack thereof.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Justice for the disappeared

A former Argentine naval officer has been convicted in Spain of crimes against humanity for his role in Argentina's "dirty war". Under the 1976 - 83 military dictatorship, thousands of unionists, leftists, and other political opponents of the regime were "disappeared". Some were tortured; others were drugged, stripped naked, and thrown from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean. Adolfo Scilingo participated in two of these flights, in which 30 people were murdered.

He is only one man - but it is a start, and a salutory warning to those engaged in human rights abuses: one day, justice will catch up with them.

Too close for comfort

We can all rest easy - Asteroid 2004 MN4 probably won't hit the Earth on Friday, APril 13th, 2029. Instead it will miss us by 20,000 - 40,000 kilometres. But that's still far too close for comfort - only four to seven earth radii - and anything which passes inside the orbit of the moon is a real worry. Worse, it will be back for another shot - and the influence of the Earth's gravity makes it unpredictable exactly where it will go. So as early as 2034, somewhere could be getting 1000 Megatonnes of rock dropped on it...

What can we do? A first step would be to tag the asteroid with a transponder, so we know where in the hell it is. The data from this could be used to refine its orbit, and make a more accurate prediction of where and when it might hit. We also need to start thinking about how to move this cosmic traffic hazard somewhere safer - ideally before its too late. And we need to start finding other similar objects. We didn't notice this one until last year, when it seemed to be on a direct collision course; what if there's another one out there?

If we don't start doing this, then one morning we're going to wake up and find that Venice or New York or where-ever has been vaporised, or that San Francisco and Tokyo have been drowned by an asteroid-induced tidal wave. And while that's not the end of the world, it's certainly unpleasant enough to justify further action.

Second response

From Philip Howison, the LibertariaNZ candidate for Hutt South:

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

This is a difficult question because parts of the Libertarianz agenda have to stand together - for example, privatising health and education would be unjust unless supported by massive tax cuts, and abolishing tax while not privatising would leave health and education without funding. Given that, I would pass a bill allowing freedom in education, but leaving education funding in government hands until I'm allowed to pass another act! The parents at Orauta School in Northland would benefit, as would all other parents who care about their children's education and want more choice. Basically we would hand the keys of each state school to the individual Boards of Trustees.

Education is a particular concern of mine especially since I sat the NCEA a couple of years ago and I know how stupid it is. That's one of the reasons why I chose to stand against Education Minister Trevor Mallard in Hutt South.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Rodney Hide (Act)
Bernard Darnton (Libertarianz)
Stephen Berry (Libertarianz)

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

Rodney Hide, as in the previous question. He is a strong libertarian though not in a libertarian party. Libertarianz policy is not to support coalitions, however. We will not compromise on matters of principle but will support any law change that increases freedom or rule of law (including the principle of equality before the law).

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?


...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?


...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?


...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?


...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

Support, because of the principle of equality before the law. But ultimately the Marriage Act should be repealed. Keep the government out of my bedroom!

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?


...state funding of integrated schools?

Oppose. But it's unfair that people who pay for private education are taxed for public schools. While public schools and taxation are phased out over 2 or 3 years, Libertarianz would give these parents tax breaks.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

Oppose. The government must maintain the rule of law, but violating freedom of speech won't help it achieve that goal. Throwing an axe through a window should be illegal because it's vandalism, not because it's the Prime Minister's window.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?


...further restrictions on hate speech?


...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?


...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?


...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

Oppose. I don't agree with gender-identity discrimination personally but if other people want to be bigoted that's their own business. The government, though, should never discriminate - equality before the law.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

Support. Freedom is nothing without the right to own property

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

Oppose. We need a bill of rights, but a constitution, perhaps based on the US constitution, should be our starting point, along with the English common law.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

Oppose. The court is toothless and this sort of international organisation is pointless in my opinion.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

Support. Obviously this would benefit the Libertarianz, but we believe having a threshold is undemocratic, too. Minor parties have a place in the system and they should not be excluded if they have significant support but it falls below an arbitrary level.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Sent him back unless he was prepared to undergo a fair trial for his alleged crimes - which are serious. He was convicted of associating with the terrorist group responsible for killing several people in the Paris subway bombings and hijacking an airliner which they threatened to fly into the Eiffel Tower. Those charges may not be true, but they should have been publicly investigated before we let a suspected terrorist into the country. Holding the man without trial for so long, however, was a terrible violation of the principles of justice and the rule of law.

Anyone without a serious conviction should face no obstacle in immigrating - the Libertarianz believe in open borders.

So, I wonder who else is going to come forward...

My fifteen minutes of fame

I'm being interviewed by Russell Brown about my candidate survey on 95bFM's The Wire sometime between 12:20 and 12:50 today. If you're not in Auckland and can't tune in, you can listen to the streaming feed here.

Cultural insecurity

Colin James' column in the Herald this morning focuses on cultural insecurity as an election issue. But while he talks about National's efforts to exploit it for political advantage, he totally glosses over the reason for this insecurity - which is a shame, because its quite illuminating. IMHO most of the big political debates at the moment - the Treaty, civil unions, the greater cultural and political influence of Maori - are symptomatic of generational change, with National on the side of the old, and Labour on the side of the young. New Zealand has changed dramatically over the past thirty years - and for the better, IMHO - and now National is trying to turn the clock back on that change. While economically they look back to the 90's, culturally, they look back to the 50's, when the country was run by and for Dead White Males, we had "the best race relations in the world", and Maori were a little brown ministral show we trotted out for royal visits.

The problem for National is not just that we have moved on since then, but that an awful lot of New Zealanders have grown up in a society which is open, tolerant, and inclusive, where the Treaty is regarded as our constitutional bedrock, and where Maori culture is something for us all to be proud of. And we're growing more numerous. Meanwhile, the people National is trying to appeal to - the Dead White Males - are dying by the day. Which means that in the long-term, their cultural project is doomed. To paraphrase Kruschev, demographics is on our side, and we will bury them - literally, in many cases. In the meantime, though, they're not quite dead yet. And they may still have the electoral power to fuck up the future so they can spend their golden years untroubled by the fact that things have changed. Only time will tell...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Well, I didn't know that: Tony Blair is being challenged in his own electorate by Reg Keys, the father of a British soldier who died in Iraq. And a member of Blair's own electorate committee has resigned and gone to work for him. While I don't expect them to win, hopefully it is making Blair at least a little uncomfortable...

Electoral funding

Today's big topic seems to be the Electoral Commission's allocation of broadcasting funding to the parties. The general consensus is that NZ First got ripped off, and I agree. At half the size of National, they should be a tier above the other minor parties when it comes to funding but instead they're left to languish on the same funding as the Greens. I guess this was the National rep on the commission's quid pro quo for his party getting less money than Labour - stomping on the fingers of its closest competitor.

But there is an unfortunate contradiction at the heart of our electoral broadcasting laws: we think money can buy elections, so we ban parties from using their own money for TV advertising and instead fund it out of a common pool. But then we rig the funding levels so as to favour those parties currently established - effectively perpetuating the status quo. And it doesn't help that the allocations are in part set by representatives of the two major parties, who share an interest in preventing anybody else from challenging them. It's a deeply unsatisfactory system, and one which cries out for reform - though not in the direction desired by the free marketeers. The outright corruption seen in the US (driven by politicians' and parties' need to raise ever larger war-chests to meet the costs of the advertising arms race) is not something I want to see here. Instead, it would be better to retain state funding, but divide the funds and time equally between parties so as to create a level playing field. Or at worst, use a two-tier system, differentiating between those who make it into Parliament or have a certain number of audited members or poll close to the threshold, and those who don't. It should be the voters who decide how well each party does - not the handicappers at the Electoral Commission...

Monday, April 18, 2005

First response

I've had the first response to my candidate survey, from Hamish McCracken, the Labour candidate for East Coast Bays. His full response is below (questions in bold):

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

I would like to see a range of public health measures promoted to encourage healthy eating among school age and pre school children. This would range from support, education and labelling regimes to help parents and a set of guidelines about what foods should and should not be available in public institutions such as schools and hospitals. There is strong evidence that this would have positive long term implications for both quality of life and costs in the health system.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Lynne Pilay, Tim Barnett and Russell Fairbrother.

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

Matt Robson

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

No I would advocate public education rather than legislative change.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?


...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

Decriminalising yes, legalising no.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?


...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?


...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?


...state funding of integrated schools?


...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

This needs to be reviewed.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

This needs to be reviewed.

...further restrictions on hate speech?

Very cautiously yes. I would want to pay very close attention to the wording of any legislation that might reduce the freedom of expression we enjoy.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?


...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?


...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?


...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?


...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

No but more because our entrenchment procedure lack any real teeth making the process a waste of parliamentary time.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?


...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?



With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

The government acted on the best advice available and should always do so as a matter of course. What is important is that we live in a country where people have the right to challenge the government in court and win.

Hopefully it will be the first of many...

Update: Added question 3, on coalitions.

Not just the Maori seats

Following its high polling in the Maori seats, the Maori Party will now be contesting as many as 32 general seats as well. This can only be a Good Thing - it will show that the Maori Party is not solely a product of the Maori seats, it will increase electoral competition and the options available to voters, and it may very well give Labour a run for their money in a few places.

Still, there is one down side: it means I'll have to send out more candidate surveys...

Sacrificing justice to expediancy

When the government put forward its Criminal Procedure Bill, I objected to the provisions allowing majority verdicts and retrials when the police fail to do their job. But it seems I missed something: Phil Goff wants to axe the right to a jury trial in cases where defendants have been suspected of jury tampering. Instead, these cases would be heard by a judge sitting alone.

This is simply appalling; the right to trial by jury is absolutely fundamental, and exists to ensure that the facts are properly examined and that people are not convicted as a result of one person's prejudices. The proper course of action where jury tampering is suspected is to protect the jury while bringing the full weight of the law to bear on those attempting to subvert the system. But the government is unwilling to do this - it is not "cost-effective", and would involve the police having to do work. Instead, it's far easier simply to stack the legal deck, rather than do the hard work required to pursue justice.

Everyone deserves a fair trial - even the "crims" and gang-members this bill is targetted at. Yes, this requires work - but that is what makes it a justice system rather than one of arbitrary punishment. We should ensure that the government does that work, rather than taking the easy way out and sacrificing justice to expediancy.

New Fisk

Our presidents and prime ministers are poseurs. Where are the Great Men of today?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Energy: More wind

While I'm on the subject of energy, Hawke's Bay Wind Farm has applied for resource consent to build a 220 MW farm near Te Pohue. They have to get that consent, of course - but if successful, they could be generating by 2007.

For those who think that wind will never amount to anything, or that it cannot supply our needs, 220 MW represents one and a half years demand growth in one hit. Factor in the 120 MW of wind farm consents granted in the last six months, and we are looking at meeting our entire demand growth for the next few years from wind alone. And while it won't generate all the time (New Zealand wind farms "only" run at 45% of their maximum capacity - compared to 58% for hydro), every MWh generated by wind is gas that does not need to be burned and water that does not need to be spilled. When our biggest worry is a dry year, that's a nice capability to have.

Energy: security of supply?

Today's Sunday Star-Times reports on an oil prospect "which could change the face of New Zealand's petroleum industry":

The Barque prospect, 70km off Oamaru, is believed to contain as much oil as found in all previous New Zealand discoveries and could have as much gas as in the original Maui and Kapuni gas fields combined - equal to 30 years of recent gas production.

They're drilling a well to confirm it, but if its even half the size they expect, Oamaru could become the New Plymouth of the south. But it won't necessarily mean the end of our current energy worries - as with other promising finds off the South Island, the gas is in the wrong place. There's simply no market for it in the South Island, and while one could be created, it would require a substantial capital investment - as would getting the gas to where the market is, in the North Island.

Fortunately, with Maui winding down, there may be someone willing to make that investment: Contact Energy. Contact is already looking at constructing an LNG terminal in New Plymouth to supply its existing gas-fired power plants - and it makes no difference to them whether the gas comes from Indonesia or Oamaru. A large find off the South Island would probably convince them to go ahead with the project - which means we could continue to build gas plants rather than having to resort to coal. Electricity prices would still rise - transporting gas as LNG adds a significant amount to the cost - but we wouldn't need to worry about security of supply for another few decades.

An earthquake for the government

Despite their rubbishing it as flawed and not statistically significant, there's no question that yesterday's Marae-Digipoll, which showed that the Maori Party was ahead in five of the seven Maori seats and tied for the party vote among those on the Maori roll was an earthquake for the government. DPF has an analysis of the margins of error, and concludes that the Maori Party is significantly ahead in most seats - and even where Labour is leading, their lead may be illusory (though less so in the case of Nanaia Mahuta). Labour is going to have to fight hard for Maori votes, which given their past history as safe seats whose support could be taken for granted can only be a Good Thing.

But lest anyone think its all bad news for the government, there's one cheerful detail: John Tamihere may not be a problem anymore after the election. Even with the limited sample size, the poll shows that he will lose by between 19 and 53 percent of the vote. I guess refusing a list spot wasn't such a good idea after all...

DPF also notes that, based on current speculation about party lists, there could be as many as 25 Maori MPs after the election - giving them 21% of seats for only 12% of the population. But this is an artefact of list-selection policies and the strong competition for the Maori vote more than anything else. When there are three parties all competing for a limited number of Maori votes, and giving Maori candidates strong places on their lists, then there are likely to be a disproportionate number elected. But I guess we should all be thanking national for fighting this insidious threat of over-representation, by shoving maori firmly to the back of their electoral bus. On current polling, they're likely to have around 40 MPs after the next election - but according to David, only one to three of them will be Maori. I think that shows very clearly that they simply are not interested in Maori's votes...

First victory in California

The San Francisco Superior Court has ruled that California's ban on gay marriage violates the state's constitution. Drawing on precedents that marriage is a fundamental human right and "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men", the court found that there is no compelling state interest for it to be limited to partners of opposite gender. It also found that civil unions were not enough:

The state's position that California has granted marriage-like rights to same-sex couples points to the conclusion that there is no rational state interest in denying them the rites of marriage as well.

The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts: separate but equal.

The quote from Brown v Board of Education is not accidental; the court correctly notes the parallels with the great civil rights cases of the 50's, particularly those dealing with miscegenation and interracial marriage. And using those precedents, it argues strongly that limiting marriage to partners of opposite gender is no more justifiable than limiting it to partners of the same race.

This is good news for Californians, but it is only the beginning of the process. The ruling has already been appealed, and must work its way slowly through the California court system, which could take years.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The problem with control orders

Last month, in response to the Law Lords' ruling that it could no longer detain terrorist suspects without trial, the British government implemented a system of administrative "control orders", allowing it to restrict the freedom of movement, speech or association of suspects, or even place them under house arrest. Unfortunately, the new system shared the most obnoxious feature of the regime it replaced: the orders are issued by the Home Secretary rather than by a judge, and the evidence justifying them is not tested by any independent body. The flaws in this system are now becoming obvious, with the Home Office being forced to apologise to ten men subject to control orders for linking them to the London ricin plot.

The ten men were originally detained without trial for two years in Belmarsh prison. Following the Law Lords' decision, they were released on bail, but subjected to control orders on the basis that they "belonged to and have provided support for a network of north African extremists directly involved in terrorist planning in the UK, including the use of toxic chemicals". This was simply false - but because there was no independent oversight, it was not detected until challenged by the men's lawyers. Which really does make you wonder exactly how much attention the Home Secretary is paying when he signs these things...

It also makes you wonder exactly what else the Home Secretary hasn't paid attention to, and how much else of the "evidence" on which these orders is based is similarly bullshit. But the problem is, we simply have no way of knowing. It could be ironclad, or the security services could have convinced themselves of the men's guilt and ignored all evidence to the contrary. And we can't simply take their word for it. When people's liberties are being restricted, when they are being forbidden to speak with their families and made prisoners in their own homes, we must demand the very highest standards of evidence. The control order system simply does not meet that standard. It is unsafe, and should be abolished.

Another political quiz

Chris Lightfoot has done another version of his political survey, which extracts axes from the answers given by survey respondents. The axes for the last version were economic left/right and pragmatic vs idealistic; this one divides people into "hanging / flogging Eurosceptics" vs "rehabilitation internationalists" (the most significant axis), and "free market pro war" vs "socialist anti-war". More information on the survey methodlogy can be found here.

In addition to giving handy cartesian coordinates, it also compares your scores with those of major UK political parties and newspapers, as well as by age and location. Unfortunately, the questions are fairly UK-specific, so I won't be doing a graph of this one.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Candidate survey launched

The candidate survey has been launched. I've emailed the initial batch of 160 candidates - basically everyone from National and Labour, plus a smattering of others.

Many of the smaller parties haven't completed candidate selection yet, while for others (United Future in particular) it has been difficult to find contact details for the people they have named. But several have also promised to send me candidate lists when selections are confirmed, and I'll be sending out further batches of surveys as details come to hand.

(Obviously if anyone can help with gathering candidate lists, please contact me. I'm particularly short on ACT and Green candidates at the moment, mainly because their websites are less than clear about who is standing and who is not).

The survey itself is here, and the current candidate list here. I'll put it into Access sometime, once I start wanting to run queries that I can't just do by sorting.

All I have to do now is wait, and hope that somebody replies to the bloody thing...

New Fisk

Lebanon delays its election despite US demands

Is denial of parole a penalty?

Ahmed Zaoui hasn't been the only person in front of the Supreme Court recently, and yesterday it was also hearing an appeal on an application for a writ of Habeas Corpus brought by Kenneth Morgan. Morgan was charged in 2001 with cannabis offences, but between then and his conviction, the government passed the Sentencing and Parole Acts, which altered his eligibility for parole. Previously, he would have been entitled to parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence; under the new rules it is discretionary, and he will be serving his full term. Morgan claims that this violates his rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, specifically s 25 (g), which states that everyone charged with an offence has

the right, if convicted of an offence in respect of which the penalty has been varied between the commission of the offence and sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser penalty.

What the Supreme Court will really be deciding here is whether denial of parole is a penalty. And there's a good prima facie argument that it is. If Morgan had been treated according to the rules in place at the time he committed the offence, he would be out of jail by now. Supervised, but still out of jail. Because of the changes in the law, he is still imprisoned. This is a stark difference in his conditions, and no different from if the government had simply increased the length of his sentence by a year.

The Supreme Court cannot overturn the law, but it can "read it down", reinterpreting it so as to be consistent with the Bill of Rights (and in fact it is legally required to do so, under s6, to the extent that it is possible). The likely result of this would be that Morgan would be freed on parole, and possibly be able to sue for compensation. The cases of other prisoners in a similar situation would also have to be reviewed. But the consequences don't just stop there; a finding for Morgan would be extremely damaging to the government's plans to deny convicted criminals compensation for wrongs done to them in prison. After all, if being denied parole is a penalty, then being denied fair access to the courts certainly is - a point I made in my submission on the Prisoners' and Victim's Claims Bill:

The entire bill constitutes retrospective punishment. The bill effectively adds a little something extra to the sentence of every past, present, and future prisoner - a removal of equal rights in the courts - and justifies it on the basis of conviction. It is different only in scale from Parliament deciding to add, say, three years or a $5000 fine to the sentence of every prisoner.

We can only hope that Morgan wins...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gearing up for privatisation

So, National has a "new" education policy, and what is it? A return to the same tired old policies that were tried - and failed - in the 80's. Bulk funding, so the government can wipe its hands of the last shreds of its responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to a decent education (or at least equal access to teachers) - not to mention hide underfunding and dump blame on the local board; smashing the unions, so they can drive the cost (and quality) down; and of course abolishing zoning, so that children can be forced to travel miles for a basic education rather than go to their local school. All this has been roundly criticised by parents, teachers, and principals - those with an actual stake in the education system. But what hasn't been criticised is the overwhelming thrust of the scheme - which is to funnel public money into private pockets so as to enrich National's mates in the business community - and the way educational outcomes have been sacrificed to this goal.

The headline of the policy is the introduction of national literacy and maths standards, coupled with testing for primary school children to ensure that those standards are met. Let's ignore the fact that we already have testing, and that there's no problem with identifying the children who are struggling, and move on to what National proposes be done with those who fail to make the grade. Rather than funnelling them into the internationally acclaimed Reading Recovery programme (and resourcing it properly to cope with the increased load), National instead proposes giving them vouchers to purchase private tuition - in other words, taking money out of schools and giving it to an industry which has no standards, and which must pay not just for the cost of service delivery, but also a profit margin. The chief beneficiaries of this move will not be children, but the owners of Kip McGrath.

Then there's their promise to boost government funding to "independent" (meaning private) schools. Again, these are profit-making entities, and the primary beneficiary will be their owners. Also advantaged will be the children of the rich, who will effectively be getting a fat subsidy for abandoning the public education system.

But we should also ask where National is going with this policy - and the destination is obvious. The shift to running schools through a community trust effectively turns them into private entities; allowing them to cannibalise "underperforming" schools will mean that we will end up with a small number of competing educational corporations, probably regional monopolies. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is what was done in the electricity sector - and the end result was the sale of much of the industry into private hands. In other words, National is gearing up for a full-scale privatisation of the public education system. Is that really what we want?

Hopping around the corridors of power

The Greens have finally launched their new blog...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Valuable consideration

Earlier in the month I discovered the British site, which promotes vote-swapping between labour and Liberal Democrat voters so as to maximise the anti-Tory vote and specifically target high-ranking Conservative MPs. The idea is that labour and Lib Dem supporters in seats where the other party's candidate is the strongest anti-Tory agree to "swap votes" - to vote for the other party to defeat the common enemy. While IMHO a strong argument can be made for voting tactically in such a situation in any case, the swap allows people to feel that they are helping their preferred party at the same time - even if they have no way of knowing whether the other party has fulfilled their side of the bargain.

This got me thinking about the potential for vote-swapping in New Zealand. While there's obviously no point in swapping party votes under MMP (as it would have no net effect), there are possibly some electorates with an analogous situation to the British example - Tamaki, for example - where the Greens and Labour have a common interest in keeping out the right, and Coromandel, where they should have a common interest in ensuring that the Greens get an electorate seat (there are also electorates where similar deals would make sense for the right - Tamaki again being a case in point). However, there's a problem: s 216 of the Electoral Act 1993 bars

giving, lending, agreeing to give or lend, offering, promising, or promising to procure or endeavour to procure, any money or valuable consideration

in order to induce someone to vote a particular way (or not vote at all). It's a corrupt practice, carrying a penalty of a $4000 fine, up to a year in jail, and being barred from voting for three years.

So, I thought I'd ask the Electoral Commission about the legality of vote-swapping here. Their response?

A vote is valuable consideration and as such a contract between voters to swap votes would amount to bribery under s216 of the Electoral Act 1993.

So, be warned: cutting an explicit deal with another voter is illegal. However, we can still agitate, and I will probably be advocating tactical voting options closer to the election.

No Tour II

Via Bloggreen: A petition against the Black Caps' tour of Zimbabwe.

Legislating by press release

The Herald this morning has more details on Jim Anderton's banning of nitrous oxide - and it looks like he's legislating by press release. Or rather, by legal opinion. Because that is what this ban is: a legal opinion from the Ministry of Health that nitrous oxide can only be dispensed with a prescription.

How strong is this? Well, nitrous oxide is listed as a prescription medicine in Schedule One of the Medicines Act 1981. But so is

Nicotine; for nasal use except when sold from a smoking cessation clinic run under the auspices of a registered medical practitioner; in medicines other than for smoking cessation

and I don't see them threatening to prosecute dairies for selling cigarettes. Why not? Because they're not being sold as medicine for a "therapeutic purpose". It's not considered prescription medicine if used for another purpose.

Unfortunately for nos users, "inducing anaesthesia" is a therapeutic purpose, which would seem to make things fairly open and shut. So yes, they can prosecute, and relying on selling food or automotive grade nitrous isn't a defence, as it is the purpose for which it is supplied, rather than its quality, which makes it illegal.

Of course, this is only a legal opinion, and there would need to be a test case on whether a "cheap headrush" is anaesthesia, but who wants to take that risk?

And on the flip side, this is yet another example of our inconsistency and hypocrisy over some drugs but not others. The vast majority of alcohol in this country is sold for exactly the same purpose as nitrous - "inducing anaesthesia" - with far worse long-term health effects and equivalent potential for dumbarse behaviour under the influence. And while nitrous has been implicated in combination with other drugs in two deaths over the past few years, alcohol verifiably kills hundreds (whether directly in accidents or indirectly through long-term side effects) every year. By any measure, it is the greater danger - but rather than banning it, we have restricted its use to adults, and changed the culture so that driving under the influence is no longer acceptable. We should adopt the same solution for nitrous.

The proper way to deal with terrorists

Prosecute them. Of course, that means you actually have to proove your case in a court of law - but that requirement ought to make the intelligence services, who currently deal in little more than suspicion and prejudice, lift their game.

Anderton the killjoy

Via BlogGreen: Jim Anderton has banned recreational use of nitrous oxide. Whether he's trying to legislate by press release or has whipped up an Order In Council to schedule it alongside other drugs is unclear, but according to Newstalk ZB, it "is no longer a legal high".

This is simply a crazy decision. Nitrous is one of the safest highs around. It's not physically addictive, and while it has been linked to low levels of vitamin B12 (which long-term leads to neurological problems), you have to be doing boxes and boxes of the stuff for a prolonged period of time for that to occur. Likewise, while there have been incidents of people asphyxiating or giving themselves frostbite due to improper use, or simply behaving like dumbarses and hurting themselves, these are not a significant problem, and far less likely in the "nitrous bars" Anderton is targetting. And of course both the long-term health effects and the risks of misuse are far lower than those of alcohol, which we happily tolerate. Really, the only reason seems to be that Anderton is a killjoy.

Needless to say, I don't think I'll be voting for him either...

Shrinking coalition watch

And now the Poles are leaving. Not immediately, but by the end of the year. They've already reduced their troop levels from 2500 to 1700, and will pull their remaining forces out when the UN mandate expires in December. I guess "New Europe" isn't so keen on Bush's war either, particularly if it means risking de-election...

Fresh Python

Let them eat bombs

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sedition by Example XIII: Robert Semple

(A historical illustration of the abuses perpetrated under our law against sedition)

Robert Semple, speaking at the Globe Theatre, Auckland, December 3rd, 1916:

I have a message of fraternal greetings from the Australian people. It is the Australian people's message that the people of this country shall not under any circumstances permit this country to be lassoed by that Prussian octopus, conscription.

Despite all the strongest opposition, slander and vilification and journalistic perjury of the hypocritical tongue of that polished wowseristic gang, the democracy stood on their feet and wiped from the sunkissed hills of Australia every vestige of Prussianism. In years to come generations of the future will look back with glowing hearts and benevolent souls upon the men and women who broke the chains of despotism that were about to be put about their bodies. It is only a repetition of the past, anyhow. In every war it was the opportune time for the reactionist and commercial vulture to do his dirty work in the name of patriotism. They are doing that now. What other guarantee could the politicians of the world give to the Shylocks who are lending money to conduct this dreadful tragedy? No other guarantee, only a servile slavish people.

Conscription and liberty cannot live in the one country. Conscription is the negation of human liberty. It is the beginning of the servile state. It is the one forged chain that can be applied to the legs and minds of men and women. Conscription was not intended in this country to fight the Kaiser, but to fight trades unionism and the working classes. They are more afraid of the trade unionists, the capitalists are, than the Kaiser. Why? The Kaiser belonged to the same school that they belonged to. The Kaiser stands for despotism, robbery, plunder, oligarchy. The workers stand for liberty. They fear the rising of the working class population a sight more than the Kaiser because the Kaiser belongs to the same school as the rest of the robbers in the rest of the world.

The psychological effect of my experience in Australia has kindled a flame of rebellion in my soul, and, regardless of the consequences, I intend to fight, by God, that infamous rotten law (to wit, the Military Service Act, 1916), that has been passed upon the heads of the people in New Zealand. The men who fought the campaign in Australia feared nothing. We have, too, the same kind of soul. I believe similar blood flows in the veins of men and women such as flowed in the veins of the martyrs in days gone by. It has got to do things and say things, and the time has arrived in New Zealand to do it now. We're not going to allow Australia to say we haven't got a kick. They have said to me, 'Semple, whatever you do, we will be with you morally, financially, in spirit as in every other way.' We are going to make it damned hot for this government. How long are the working classes of New Zealand going to be the apathetic tools of the employing classes that they are to-day? Something has got to be done in this country to resurrect the fighting energy of the working classes. Miners in this country are ready to pay their share of the battle, no matter what it might be. I have a wire in my pocket which I got last night to the effect that every coalminer if he is drawn in the ballot (to wit, the ballot for service under the Military Service Act, 1916) has received instructions not to present himself. He is exempted by instructions of the Government. The miners don't want that exemption. They will say: 'Take your bribe back again.' They will say: 'You are not going to bribe us and conscript our labour. You are not going to play us against the other fellow. To hell with your bribery.' We are going to see before many weeks how much there is in them. We are going to try them. Make no mistake about that.

I know that everyone talking against this infamous law is knocking at the jail door. But we have to take these risks. I refuse to have my tongue bound in my cheeks. I have the freedom of my children and the dignity of my wife to fight for, and I am going to do it regardless of what I may personally suffer in the process. The gong has got to be sounded. The forces of manhood have got to be mibilised, and things have got to be done in order that the sun of liberty may shine upon the people of this country. The political system has its roots in hell. The wowser churches are infamous dens administering chloroform and 'dope'.

For this, and similar speeches in Wellington and Christchurch, Semple was charged with sedition. He was convicted, and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Concurrent charges that he had published (spoken) "matter likely to interfere with recruiting, discipline, or administration of His Majesty's Forces, or with the effective operation of His Majesty in the present war" were dropped.

(Source: 1916 Sedition Trials, Maoriland Worker, 1917)

Cold political calculation

The Labour caucus has responded to John Tamihere's friendly fire and denigration with... a motion of censure. That's right, the old wet bus ticket one-two. But lest anyone think that Labour is doing this because they're saps, think again: there's cold political calculation going on here. Tamihere's comments are made, and can't be undone. The only question is whether Labour loses more by keeping him around as a millstone around their neck, or by fighting a messy and uncertain battle to deselect and evict him.

When faced with a problem like that, Helen Clark will choose certainty every time. Especially when, despite everything he has said, Tamihere can get the full backing of his electorate committee.

He'll never be in Cabinet, of course - not after alienating not only his caucus rivals but his allies as well - but I'm not sure that that's enough of a punishment. And OTOH, it's not my party, and therefore in many ways not my business. The most I can do is not vote for people who will tolerate such an arsehole. But then, I was already doing that...